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by Sara Welch | Correspondent
Streetsboro -- It has been an up-and-down season for the Streetsboro boys basketball team.
On Jan. 8 at Streetsboro, the Rockets may have finally turned the corner.
Streetsboro handed Norton their first division loss of the season, securing a 51-49 last-second victory in a Portage Trail Conference Metro Division matchup.
"Norton wasn't going to come in here and go quietly," Rockets head coach Nick Marcini said. "That's the best basketball team in our league. There's no doubt about it. They have it all. They're big and strong. They shoot the ball well. They have some ball handlers. They play defense."
The Panthers trailed 51-48 with just a second left on the clock when Tyler Sherman was fouled and sent to the charity stripe for one final scoring opportunity. Sherman sunk his first shot and intentionally missed the second, hoping one of his teammates would be able to grab the rebound and manage a quick put-back to tie the score. However, the Rockets (5-6, 4-2) denied Norton any final scoring attempts and the ball bounced out of bounds as time expired.
"Being up, we knew they were going to make a run," Marcini said. "It came down to us having the fortitude to hold it off and get it at the end. It got a little tick-tacky at the end with one second to go, but Sherman hit the first one, missed the second one and we kept them off the glass. We'll take it."
After a close first quarter, Streetsboro jumped out to a comfortable 10-point lead before halftime. Some of this success came as a result of the eight steals the Rockets snatched in the first half. Brandon Gency contributed four steals and Jordan Matusik had three.
Gency finished with a double-double consisting of 10 points and 11 rebounds, leading Streetsboro on the boards. Matusik led the Rockets in scoring after nailing five three-pointers and totaling 17 points and five rebounds.
"Brandon has been struggling a little bit this year," Marcini said. "We talked before the game and I told him big players play in big games. He's a four-year stater and as a four-year stater, he should be our leader and our best player out there.
"I think he responded great. He's taken the role as our point guard, so it's going to take away some of our scoring. He was undersized against Sherman and [Aaron] VanBuskirk tonight, but he's a strong kid and he manned up tonight and got the job done."
The Panthers (9-2, 5-1) challenged the Rockets in the second half, outscoring them 22-17 in the third quarter and 8-5 in the fourth quarter. However, Streetsboro had built enough of a lead that even a last-second effort couldn't spoil the night.
VanBuskirk finished as the high scorer of the game and cleared a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Additionally, he had three assists, three blocks and one steal for Norton.
The Rockets lost a 36-33 decision in the junior varsity contest. Jerry Judd led Streetsboro with 15 points.